Fear stops all of us from doing things. It can also drive our behavior too – often behavior that is not good for us. Either way, when fear controls us, it’s not good.
Not surprisingly, men and women respond to fear differently. While many women will readily admit their fears, most men on the other hand will not. Fear is equated with weakness for a lot of men. And there is just something about being a man that makes it very difficult to acknowledge weakness. I’d say it’s culturally bread, but I think this form of denial is learned by men in many cultures.
There are actually a lot of things men can be afraid of, or at least worried about. Here’s a brief list from the men I’m counseling right now: afraid of losing my job, not getting my year-end bonus, son will blow his chance to go to a good college, never be happy, won’t have enough money for retirement, marriage will end, will only see my kids half time. And that’s just from the guys I talked to this week.
Clearly men have fears, but few men will actually admit them. Another fear for men that is rarely talked about is fear of their partner. With the increasing publicity around domestic violence, it’s becoming safer for women to say they fear their partner. But big stigmas still remain for men to say the same.
Fear of a partner is not solely due to physical aggression, though, because most often relationship related fear arises from the verbal or emotional responses of a partner that can be just as traumatic as a punch. A man I am counseling now describes himself as a “coward” around his wife. He can’t yet explain why, but admits that he fears how she’ll respond to him.
This man’s fear of his partner is far from unique. Many women fear their partner’s responses too. One of the reasons communication is cited as a top problem in so many relationships is because of the conflict avoidance response both men and women have to their partners – a response that originates from fear.
Relationship fear, employment fear, money fear, family fear, personal satisfaction fear – fear can arise in any part of life and control us. So what can we do to lessen fear in our lives? Here are three steps:
– Become aware of how you feel. One of the ways to do this is by simply asking yourself how you feel in different situations. Awareness of feelings is an acquired skill. It’s one women have honed much more than men. So most men require lots of practice (me too). While some men believe that feelings are not important to them, the fact remains that they heavily influence our behavior. So making it a priority to know your feelings more is essential for success in life.
– Be honest with yourself about your feelings. Both men and women can easily deceive themselves about how they feel, particularly with difficult to deal with feelings, like about their personal relationship. And feelings that reveal weakness in particular are very difficult for men to acknowledge, even to themselves.
– Begin to share how you feel with others. First start by picking someone who can’t hurt you, like a co-worker. Next practice sharing a little more about your concerns, worries, and then fears with other people who aren’t too close to you. When you’ve practiced doing this for awhile with others, then try repeating the process with your partner. Remember to start simply and gradually go deeper.
Ironically, it takes a lot of courage and strength to admit our fears. But the vulnerability required to share how we feel with others makes us stronger and better equipped not to create fear in the first place. Think about where in your life fear could be controlling you. Then practice the three A’s – Aware, Acknowledge, and Admit – to take back control of one of the most powerful of feelings.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.